‘PRESENT LAUGHTER’: Kevin Kline & Kate Burton. Photo: Joan Marcus

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PRESENT LAUGHTER
Written by Noël Coward
Directed by Moritz Von Stuelpnagel
Through July 2, 2017
St. James Theatre
246 West 44th Street
(877-250-2929), LaughteronBroadway.com/

 

By David NouNou

No one does drawing-room comedy better than Noel Coward. Having seen Present Laughter now for the fourth time, I can honestly say that this production, although unevenly cast, is the definitive version and a must-see. Having seen George C. Scott, Frank Langella, Victor Garber, all brilliant actors playing the central role of Garry Essendine, I must give top honors to Kevin Kline. Being semi-biographical, Mr. Kline taps into the heart and soul of Noel Coward. He is vain, narcissistic, self-indulgent, prone to tantrums, sexually busy, and needing constant reassurance (no, I’m not talking about an elected official. I’m talking about Mr. Coward). Mr. Kline imbues him with an additional trait, expert athleticism.

Written in 1943, it is a comedy of both good and bad manners. Of course it was different times and as Mr. Coward has written in so many of his plays: (Private Lives, Hay Fever, Design For Living), being a snob and spoiled is not necessarily a bad thing. Case in point:Garry Essendine has a loving ex-wife, Liz (Kate Burton), who pampers and spoils him and still knows when to come and rescue him; a doting secretary, Monica Reed (Kristen Nielson), who attends to his daily needs; close confidants, producer Henry Lyppiatt (Peter Francers James) and director, Morris Dixon (Reg Rogers); and a swarm of admirers who lose their latch keys in order to be close to him, especially the devious Joanna Lyppiatt (Cobie Smulders), married to Henry and the innocent, hapless, and foolish Daphne Stillington (Tedra Millan). Also let’s not forget he has two devoted staff members; a butler, Fred (Matt Bittner), and a Swedish housekeeper, Miss Erikson (Ellen Harvey) who is more Teutonic than Scandinavian. In this mix is also a confused and crazed failed playwright, Roland Maule (Bhavesh Patel), who is obsessed with Garry and we really don’t know why. You could say Garry has a charmed life; he is the sun and all the planets revolve around him.

Moritz von Stuelpnagel, who directed the brilliant Hand to God, has a talent for the absurd and throws just the right touch of mischief to the proceedings. In the center of it all is Kevin Kline, who always adds a touch of class to all his performances. Here his deftness in narcissism touches on his previous roles in the musicals On the 20th Century and The Pirates of Penzance, one of the many reasons we fell in love with him in the first place. He makes vanity and conceit an art rather than a deadly sin.

Kate Burton as Liz is charming, vivacious and smart; she knows she has a handful with Garry. Kristine Nielson is such a lovable actress and has given so many wonderful performances that it is difficult to say that she is miscast as an Englishwoman. Reg Rogers, who usually plays an Englishman, is also one of the miscast victims. He is more hysterical than floundering as the cuckolded director who is in love with the vampish Joanna. Cobie Smulders, making her Broadway debut, makes a striking Joanna. Tedra Millan is adorable as the annoying, foolish young groupie, Daphne.

There are two English comedies currently running on Broadway; one of them is sheer mayhem; the other is a classy, lively revival by Noel Coward and starring Kevin Kline. Cheerio.

 

Edited by Scott Harrah
Published April 9, 2017
Reviewed at press performance on April 8, 2017

 

Present Laughter

‘PRESENT LAUGHTER’: (left to right) Kristine Nielsen, Kate Burton & Kevin Kline. Photo: Joan Marcus

‘PRESENT LAUGHTER’: Kevin Kline. Photo: Joan Marcus

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